While the media has put church responses to domestic violence under the spotlight in recent days, the Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand (LCA) has been stepping up a 20-year campaign to prevent this abuse.
Members of the church have been involved in various ecumenical groups which have developed resources and provided training for ministers and lay people about domestic and family violence, including a handbook first published by the Joint Churches Domestic Violence Prevention Program in South Australia in the 1990s. Domestic Violence Handbook was edited by Dr Tanya Wittwer, who is the chair of the LCA’s Commission on Social and Bioethical Questions. The handbook is available through the SA Council of Churches website at http://www.sacc.asn.au/_data/DV_Handbook.pdf
The church remains concerned about the levels of domestic and family violence, both within its own community and in society. According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, on average at least one woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show one in three Australian women over the age of 15 has experienced physical violence. Recent New Zealand Government statistics show the same percentage – one third – of women in that country experience physical and/or sexual violence from a partner.
Bishop John Henderson wrote on White Ribbon Day last November that the universality of family violence makes us ‘acknowledge that it exists also within our church, and that it is not pleasing to God’.
In 2015, the LCA passed the following resolution at its general synod:
That the Convention of Synod reaffirms its condemnation of all forms of violence in the family and authorises GCC (General Church Council) to commit resources for a church-wide campaign to address the prevalence of Family Violence amongst us, which may include sharing of resources, education initiatives and the provision of pastoral care to the survivors of violence, as well as the perpetrators of abuse.
Mr Ian Rentsch, Coordinator of the LCA’s Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence Campaign, said the church was ‘aiming to grow a culture of zero tolerance for domestic violence’ and foster respectful behaviour generally.
Under the theme ‘Hidden Hurts Healing Hearts’, the campaign, to be launched next month, will include a website featuring information about forms of domestic and family violence, training, available services, and scriptural and theological elements to ‘affirm the life-giving message of the gospel and the equality of women and men’. He said this would be reinforced by training across the church.
‘We also want to increase knowledge of the resources that are available within the community for those affected by domestic and family violence and how they can be accessed’, he said.
‘Finally, we hope the campaign will increase capacity within the LCA to respond to domestic and family violence-related matters, including pastoral care expertise and resourcing to support the victims of violence and to appropriately manage perpetrators of abuse.
‘At the same time a task group is examining scriptural texts that may have been wrongfully used to support male domination.’
A further commitment of the ‘Hidden Hurts Healing Hearts’ campaign is to carry out research on domestic violence within the church that may help the LCA better understand the issue and inform its ongoing response. The working group for the campaign is in early discussion with the Christian Research Association, based in Melbourne, to collaborate on research.
If you or someone you know is affected by domestic and family violence, visit ANROWS Get Support Website or call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), the 24-hour national Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Line. In an emergency, call 000.
READ MORE STORIES ABOUT domestic violence